Artist and stage designer Es Devlin explores the evolution of human thought and history in her sprawling installation titled Memory Palace. The massive, immersive work recently concluded its showing at London’s Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery where it filled their space with a chronological landscape that plotted “pivotal shifts in human perspective” from the beginning of our history to the present day.
The monochromatic space was constructed in a rounded room equipped with mirrors to multiply the area and produce the illusion that the viewer was standing on the edge of the world. Along its surface were symbols of these momentous events carved out of bamboo. Some of the memories included were: the first cave drawings in southern Africa; Nicolaus Copernicus drawing the first heliocentric map of the universe in 1543; Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus in 1955; and Greta Thunberg and her climate change strike in 2018.
Fittingly, Memory Palace was inspired by Devlin’s past. “When I was a child I lived next door to a 1:100 scale model of my town which performed a ‘son et lumiere’ show,” she explained in a statement. “The windows of individual buildings would illuminate to locate stories told in voiceover. In a way, it was a memory palace in action: ideas, words and sounds indexed within physical architecture: I never forgot any of those stories as each was indelibly etched into the buildings I passed daily.”
Ultimately, Devlin is the editor of the events included in her installation. While the viewer may not have agreed with what she presented, it’s hard to argue with what she believes is the most profound change that humans must make next. “It’s the shift we are now beginning to undertake as we re-evaluate all of our practices in the light of the climate crisis. It’s my hope that, surrounded by the traces of our historical leaps of imagination, the viewer will feel a sense of possibility that our species can achieve another momentous collective shift of perspective.”